Maui Arts & Entertainment

Plantation Days Festival features cultural mix

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A cultural mix of food, music, dance occurs at the Plantation Days Festival at the Sugar Museum in Puʻunēnē on Oct. 1.

When Masao Suzuki left Japan to work at a sugar plantation on Maui, he never imagined  his son would become an agricultural corporate executive, much less dream that his grandson would become the Major League Baseball star Kurt Suzuki.

Suzuki played as catcher for the Washington Nationals who won the World Series in 2019.

“We feel very blessed, and so does Kurt,” said Kurt’s father Warren Suzuki, a retired vice president of Maui Land & Pineapple Co.

While the sugar industry no longer exists on Maui or the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, the legacy left by its immigrant labor force is still being felt not only in the roads and water channels built by them, but also in the food, music, culture and accomplishments of their descendants.

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A Plantation Days Festival is scheduled to celebrate the plantation era with the food and the cultures of a variety of ethnic groups, many whose descendants came to work in the sugarcane fields.

The celebration takes place at the Sugar Museum at 3957 Hansen Road on Oct. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Activities include carnival games, food booths and trucks, games and cultural demonstrations, and performances by the Maui Taiko, Maui Portuguese Cultural Club, Maui Korean Association, the Maria Lanakila Filipino Catholic Club, and the Isle of Maui Pipe Band.

Portuguese women work in the sugarcane fields in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Sugar Museum.

Festival organizer Jill Pridemore said the plantation lifestyle continues to be felt in the variety of music and food enjoyed on Maui including Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, Chinese, and Puerto Rican.

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At local gas stations, it’s not unusual to see Spam musubi, sold next to manapua and pancit.

Descendants of these immigrant groups include leaders, such as the late Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Maui High School graduate. Her leadership led to the passage of Title IX, ensuring equal opportunity for female athletes in American colleges and universities.

Japanese immigrant women worked in the sugarcane fields in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Sugar Museum.

There’s also Maui swimming coach Soichi Sakamoto and his development of modern training methods in Puʻunēnē to raise youths to become Olympic and national AAU champions.

Donna Domingo, a Baldwin High School graduate, worked at the Maui Lu, the first hotel in Kīhei. She became the first female president of the ILWU Hawaiʻi. She helped to stop the eviction of 250 tenants from Front Street Apartments several years ago.

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The late Buddy Nobriga, cattleman and head of Maui Soda & Ice and Roselani Ice Cream, served on the county water board, leading the creation of the Honolua watershed, which continues to protect Nāpili from flooding today.

Kurt Suzuki’s grandfather on his mother Kathleen’s side of the family started as a truck driver for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. He transferred to its public relations department and learned photography, eventually becoming the publications editor of the company’s newsletter.

Kurt Suzuki’s father Warren once served as vice president of public relations for Maui Land & Pineapple Company.    

Pridemore said during the festival, a map of the location of ethnic camps on the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation will be displayed. Tours of Maui’s Sugar Museum are conducted at Alexander & Baldwin’s Sugar Museum Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is at 3957 Hansen Road.  For more information including festival tickets, go to sugarmuseum.com or call 808-871-8058.

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with MauiNow.com, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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